Which God?

Which God?

My take on the situation in our country today is that the BJP must decide what it is – bird or beast. It must decide what its core ideology is. I am happy to do a Core Ideology Workshop for them and the RSS if they want. The problem is that they seem to be confused in this respect and that is the fundamental problem.


Whatever be the historical philosophy of the RSS and its imaginary problems with Muslims, the reality is that every theocracy in today’s world has failed. That is because theocracies (no matter what the religion may preach) are based on the principle that people following the state religion are superior human beings and others are inferior. That simply doesn’t work and creates so much internal turmoil that the state’s major attention and resources will become tied down to quelling disturbances. Eventually it fails. Examples abound and so will be the case with a Hindu theocracy, assuming that they can make that happen. I won’t even go into the million reasons why that is a pipe dream, speaking from the point of view of Constitutional Law. I am saying that even if they managed it, it will fail because in today’s world, theocracies are outdated and finished.

As for the way, they are going about it, the fact is that they are out of control. They seem to have let loose forces which are not in their own control. I don’t believe that someone is sitting at the center of his spider’s web directing Operation Lynch. He and others are as clueless about how to control what they have (inadvertently?) started as anyone else. They have to support it as it is being done in their name and so they are supporting it by their silence. But that is a short-term strategy. At some point, very soon they will have to take a public stand on this. Murder remains a crime in this country and can’t be ignored forever. If they take a formal stance supporting it (I don’t think anyone is that insane) we can imagine what will happen.

Meanwhile, farmer suicides, the two major body blows to the economy of demonetization and GST (BJP fought tooth and nail against it at 18% and then brought it in at 28%??), the ongoing Maoist civil war, China and Pakistan and the huge unrest (what a nice word to describe another civil war) in Kashmir are real issues which are setting this country on fire. Only a completely insane person or someone who is an enemy of India will contemplate antagonizing another 20 crore Muslims, four times that number of Dalits as well as all the people with different food habits from the currently ‘approved’, in Goa, North Eastern states, Kerala and AP/Telangana, simultaneously. Remember that all these people were until now living peacefully and many even voted for the BJP. What sense does it make to antagonize them all on something as stupid as what they eat? It is not the job of the government to worry about or try to control what people eat, drink, wear, worship or marry.

It appears to me that this government has fallen into the fatal trap of believing its own PR. It doesn’t want to face the harsh reality that demonetization affected the poor, the housewife, the small trader, the person who saved up for years for a rainy day and overnight made them criminals and black-market hoarders. While the big players of the black-market, flew the coop. I would suggest that our national leaders, walk into the streets of East Delhi in disguise and talk to the small traders and manufacturers there about demonetization and the second surgical strike on the economy, the GST. I don’t say that GST is bad in itself but the way it was implemented has left people shell shocked. Surely that was not so difficult to foresee and mitigate.

I can’t believe that people who are educated and intelligent have become so blind as not to see what this is doing to the nation and to their own political future. The complete lack of opposition in this country today, leaves the BJP free to make history as one of the best parties to have ruled India in terms of economic development and poverty alleviation; provided it does that and doesn’t get side-tracked into a completely negative agenda of religious extremism, crony capitalism and power abuse.

Remember that in a nation that has no Social Security, National Health Service, State Funded Education or Elderly Care, it was these small businesses, which were doing the work of the State at their own expense. Every one of them was taking care of between ten and one hundred people. I am talking about businesses ranging from the Istiri-wala, vegetable vendor, snack carts to one-shop printing presses, lathe machines and cottage industries of all kinds. It is true that many were not under the direct tax umbrella but they all paid taxes in one form or another and what is more important, they took care of their families, relatives, employees and society. They kept the market alive, they fueled commerce, they created a credit flow, they paid for goods and services. They took care of the elderly, the sick, educated their children, paid their bills and were the blood of this nation which keeps the nation alive. These were the people who took the biggest hit in both demonetization and while they were reeling from that blow, the GST. All this while Vijay Mallya still goes to the Oval to watch cricket and Wimbledon to watch tennis.

Individual freedom is the glue that binds a nation. Take that away and the fabric of nationhood unravels. And as the Hindi song goes – even if you join the thread, there will be a knot in it. The job of the government (and the basis of the BJP’s election promise) is economic development of the nation. Nothing else. Add to this the responsibilities of public health and education which result in happier and more productive people which once again results in economic well-being. Any government that loses sight of this, sinks its own ship. America is a classic example today with Trump and his insane policies.

Taxation, money supply, encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, safety and security of life and property, fair wages and employee benefits and care of children and the elderly must be the focus of the government. This must be visible from every statement made, budget spend, policy formation and implementation and time and energy spend of the leadership; not simply ad-agency inspired PR campaigns. In all these areas, today this government has failed the nation. There is still time to salvage the situation, but it will take above all, political will and a strong leadership stance to do an about-face.

I am aware that allowing the situation to get to where it is today by remaining silent has led to a situation where the leadership is riding a tiger. The longer they stay on its back, the more difficult and costly it will be to get off. Even today, if good sense prevails and the government simply applies the law of the land, reins in the goon squads, punishes the guilty, compensates the aggrieved (difficult though it is to put a price on human life) and makes its position clear both on maintaining law and order as well as economic development, the situation is salvageable. However, we are fast running out of time. And when that happens, then only God can save us. In this case we must ask, ‘Which God?’

In the words of the great MLK, ‘When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.’
Musings from my twilight

Musings from my twilight

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” -Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was a stoic and a man of great wisdom; very unusual in a ruler. So, I present my musings to you as something from my perspective and not “The Truth”.

As I reflect on our world, someone sent me a speech made by a 13-year-old young lady, Severn Suzuki at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 3-14 June, 1992, now 25 years ago. The speech that silenced the audience (they say ‘world’ but let’s get real) for 5 minutes. Today, 25 years later, when the situation of the world is far worse than what Severn Suzuki described so eloquently, Americans elected Trump who walked out of the Paris Conference in 2017. I wonder where Severn Suzuki is today and what she feels about it. So, what does it tell us about those we have chosen to hand over our future to?


I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will say when they dig up the mound under which our ‘civilization’ (for want of another word) will lie buried. Will they not wonder how we, who prided ourselves on our scientific knowledge, technological advancement, material resources and high-class education, still managed to elect leaders who ensured that we and all that we hold dear was destroyed? We did this while knowing full well what we needed to do to stop this destruction and save ourselves. We chose not to save ourselves but committed suicide. Ask why?

Today we need drastic and urgent change. For this we need strong leadership with the ability to enforce compliance. Initially enforcement will be necessary. Then and only then can we expect change. The big problem with such leaders however, is that they tend to become dictatorial, don’t allow a second line of command to develop and so when they die or are removed, they leave a vacuum which brings with it chaos. Malaysia after Mahathir is a good example. Singapore is a good example of how the strong leadership continued because the second line developed was Lee’s son. Mercifully he didn’t go the way of the sons of other leaders and seems to be a conscientious and prudent ruler. The Middle East has many examples of the opposite some of whom are causing havoc as we speak, threatening to land us all into some very hot water.

Bottom line is that democracy as it is supposed to be in theory, seems to be unrealistic and doesn’t work and degenerates into a self-serving oligarchy without any sense of responsibility to the common people. That’s what’s happened in every single situation today, globally.  I doubt that democracy was an experiment at all. Either it was always a way for oligarchy to get legitimacy or an idealistic dream of theorists which was hijacked                       

Social media is a tool of subjugation designed to take the steam out of resistance by giving people a way to express their angst in a way that doesn’t disturb the establishment and doesn’t inconvenience them at all. It has two additional advantages: identifies potential rebel leadership early to be dealt with quietly and gives the world the message that you’re liberal and confident

Take the case of India and the ongoing social strife, brought to the forefront with the many lynchings of Muslims and Dalits for allegedly eating beef. The fact that they didn’t eat it, is neither here nor there. Neither does it matter that even if they did, death is not the penalty for this “crime” in Indian Law. 
My question here is not about Hindu sentiment at all but about the very visible failure of governance. And the fact that even those who have sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the Law of the Land seem to have bought into the discourse of Hindu sentiment. What does Hindu sentiment or Muslim sentiment or any sentiment have to do with the laws that govern this country and those who have sworn to uphold them? That is why I don’t hold the government responsible for the lynchings but for what happened (or fails to happen) thereafter. We have a law and those who are sworn to uphold, implement and if necessary enforce it. The law is for the safety of the nation and all its citizens and what anyone’s sentiments are about it, is immaterial.

We are told that Hinduism is a peaceful religion (aren’t they all?) and that Hindus have always lived peacefully with mutual respect and tolerance with all other religions. I would love to believe that, but I am faced rather inconveniently, with history. History tells us about the fate of Buddhism which predated Islam and Christianity by many centuries. Its rooting out from the land of its birth is testimony to Hindu (more correctly Brahmanical) tolerance for other faiths.

Islam came much later and when Muslim kings ruled, Hindus didn’t live with Muslims but under Muslim rule. Indeed, they lived peacefully. Did they have a choice? Muslim rulers were rulers first and Muslim much later, so they didn’t disturb the status quo and casteism continued and conversions happened more by those who saw a political advantage than anything else. That is why after 700 years of Muslim rule Hindus are 80% of the population. No Muslim ruler in all those centuries can be accused of trying to spread Islam. Islam spread with the Sufis, not rulers. That is why in 700 years, there are only two major Masaajid built by Muslim rulers (both by the same man) and not a single religious school or seminary. Muslim rulers were in it for the money, land and power and they were aided and abetted by Hindu rulers and upper castes (both Brahmins and Kshatriyas) who prayed for the success of Muslim armies commanded by Rajput and Maratha generals and populated by Rajput and Maratha troops provided by Rajput and Maratha Mansabdars. This is a part of history that is inconvenient and embarrassing to recall, but history it is.

Christianity came in force with the British and once again Hindus lived under Christian rule, not with Christians. Muslims at least integrated with Hindus to some extent (Muslim kings had Hindu queens etc.) but the British treated all Indians, Hindu and Muslim with equal disdain. 1857 was the watershed (‘bloodshed’ would be a better, more descriptive term to use) a popular rebellion against a century of brutal British rule by one commercial company (Robert Clive was Country Manager, in today’s MNC terms). The rebellion however, was sabotaged and the British were able to defeat the rebel forces thanks to the excellent intelligence and material support of the Baniyas of Delhi and the military support of the Sikh rajas of Punjab. As a result, over a million Hindu and Muslim rebels were murdered and India was handed over to the British to rule and despoil for another century. The 80-year-old king of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandsons slaughtered and left to rot in the street for 3 days and himself exiled to Burma, never to return to his homeland. Again, a very embarrassing period of history. Bahadur Shah Zafar asked the only pertinent question when he was hauled up before the British kangaroo court accused of treason. He asked, “How can I commit treason against myself? This is my country. Not the country of the Company Sahib.” But of course, the Company Sahib (respectful form of address for the British East India Company) was not interested in any soul searching. (William Dalrymple’s excellent book, The Last Moghul is salutary reading).

In all these centuries two facts are clear:

  1.        India was never one nation until 1947
  2.        Indians never saw themselves as ‘Indian’ until the years leading to Independence


Up until then, India was a conglomeration of nation states living in fear of one another and willing to side with any outsider against their own brethren. This is what enabled the very first invasions by Pathans and later by Moghuls (the First Battle of Panipat was fought between Babur and Sher Shah Suri – Pathan versus Moghul helped by Hindus on both sides). Rani of Jhansi, Razia Sultana, Tipu Sultan, Shuja ud Dowla, the Mopla Rebellion and many others were all defeated by Indian troops commanded by British officers. Jalianwala Bagh massacre was done by Indian soldiers firing into an unarmed Indian gathering on the command of General Dyer. This sentiment was also exploited by the British, most significantly in 1857 when they were able to pit Indian against Indian for the simple reason that neither saw himself as ‘Indian’.

It was this sentiment which kept us subjugated for centuries and which once again threatens to subjugate us today. I think we need to ask why. As they say, ‘Nations that don’t learn from their history are condemned to repeat it.’ We have many problems today as a nation, but the most volatile and lethal of them is narrow-mindedness masquerading as nationalism that is threatening to disenfranchise everyone except those who subscribe to it. I want to stand up and say that I don’t subscribe to it and that I am a proud Indian who loves my country and am willing to do what it takes to save it from self-destruction. I don’t need anyone’s certificate to confirm my Indian-ness and neither do you.

The reality is that India as one nation, is a phenomenon since 1947 when for the first time this country has been truly independent and a unified territory governed by its Constitution. It is a tribute to the creators of the Constitution, the vast majority of whom were Hindu and could have created a Hindu Rashtra in 1947 (the main grudge of the RSS) that they didn’t fall into the jingoistic ideology on which Pakistan was created and instead wrote a Constitution which is a mark of pride for us Indians, as a document that treats all citizens equally. If you ask me, I don’t care one way or another whether India becomes a Hindu Rashtra or not, as long as people’s freedom and safety is assured and equal opportunity to live and prosper is not compromised. Nobody can stop me from worshiping who I want to or from practicing my religion. And so, whether the country is Hindu or Christian or Sikh or Muslim or nothing makes no difference to me as long as I am able to live peacefully and comfortably, with dignity and equality in every way.

The Constituent Assembly wrote the Indian Constitution which made us a Constitutional Democracy (not a Parliamentary Democracy) and declared India to be a “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.”This is what we accepted, this is what we stand for, this is our identity, because it is written in our name, ‘We the People of India.’
The Indian Constitution is the real savior of this nation because of its interpretation of the term ‘secular’. Unlike in Europe, ‘secular’ in India, doesn’t mean ‘absence of religion’ but ‘equal respect for all religions’ and by inference and even more specifically later, the wiping out of caste discrimination. It is this that makes us one nation. It is a wonder for many ethnologists, sociologists and political scientists, how India can be one nation, given our huge diversity of language, religion, ethnicity and culture. Yet we are and our concept of secularism is the secret. Without it, we will fracture once again into groups and subgroups as we have always been in our long history.

The big cause for alarm today is that this seems to have been forgotten by those who swore to uphold the Constitution and they are also speaking the language of Hindu sentiment etc. Whether we should have a Hindu Rashtra or not is a moot point. Whether we should respect our Constitution or not and uphold it, is not.

Ahem! Pardon me, may I say something?

We are living in a country that appears to have gone mad. All sane voices are being silenced. All insanity is being given free reign. Since fascists don’t read history it has no lessons for them. For it is too easy to see what happened every single time to those who went down this road of self-annihilation…they were very successful. This road looks very gung-ho to begin with and that is why it draws so many enthusiastic band wagon riders.
To give you an idea, someone sent me a question on Quora: When will India be Muslim free?
What should I answer? I haven’t answered him yet. But I could say, sticking purely to the math: If you kill 100,000 Muslims every year, it will take 2000 years to finish the present population.

Or should I attempt a moral answer? Seems futile for someone who asked such a question.
Believe me, I am not running scared. Not by a long shot. Just very sad about my country whose soul seems to have been hijacked. What is very painful also is that there is nobody among my Hindu friends who I can share my pain with. I say this from experience because when I did share some things with them, I got one of two reactions; Stoic silence or ‘Why are you blaming me?’ Pointless to tell them that I was not blaming them. If our years of friendship are not enough for them to understand that, then I must question the value of that friendship. So, what do I do? I decided not to share. After all, in the end we stand alone.

The fact is that murder for entertainment started the day this government got elected. A Muslim boy was lynched in Pune for no reason other than that he appeared to be Muslim. You may have forgotten that incident but believe me, it happened. Then these lynchings followed one after another, inevitably because success breeds success. To the extent that someone sent me a joke:
Gau Rakshakji ghar par hain?
Nahin, lynch par gay hue hain.
Of course, I laughed very hard.

I am not saying that the government is responsible for the lynching. But it certainly is for what happens thereafter. That is what a government is for, to act against law breakers such that future aspirants are discouraged. So, I ask one simple question. “What happened to the IPC and CrPC?” Does this country still have a CCD (Common Criminal Code) and police and judiciary? If so, then what happened to the people who murdered that boy in Pune? And then to all those who murdered all those thereafter? If murder is allowed, it will happen. From the look of it, it appears that as long it is a Muslim who is killed, nobody cares – not the media, nor the judiciary, nor the police, nor the executive or politician. So, where do we go from here?

This is where we are today. And we are moving fast ahead.
Some good articles are in the English press. However, I remind myself that all these are circulated among a small section of the elite. The vast majority of the non-elites as well as a considerable portion of the elite, subscribe actively or tacitly to the philosophy of making India Muslim free – either directly or indirectly (through disenfranchisement in one way or another). What this will do to the country is not something that they appear to be interested in considering. Soon, it will be too late and all considerations will be moot.

I am among those who bear witness. For he also serves, who only bears witness.

Of humanity, not airlines

I travel all the time, but never on United. I agree with all that has been said in this article. However, my question is not about airlines though I support #neverflyunited. It is about humanity and decency. It is about justice. It is about the maxim, ‘Injustice to one is injustice to all.’ That is why I am not even talking about the race of the passenger whose exit was facilitated. I am not speculating if United would treat a WASP in the same manner. It doesn’t matter. We are all human. Believe me, WASP or not. And injustice to one is injustice to all. Until we understand that, injustice will prevail.
There was a time when people stood up to support one another. What happened to that? Why did all the other passengers simply sit there and watch this horrific thing happen? I am not saying that they should have fought the security guards. They could have simply stood up and walked off the plane in solidarityall including the First Class passengers. But not a single one did that. Why? If they had, United would have had the privilege of flying its own staff and giving them the choice of any seat on the plane.
Try it people. As long as you are willing to take shit, shit shall be dished out to you. That is a law of nature. United didn’t invent it, it’s there, like gravity. United doesn’t enforce it. We do. By our silence in the face of injustice, we permit and support injustice.
Remember the man who said, ‘When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable’? He too was American. You want to make America great again? Great idea. But then you have to get up and do something. You can’t simply sit on your situpon with your fingers crossed and mumble, ‘Thank God that didn’t happen to me.’ If you do that, one day it will. 
It surely will as the sun rises from the East.

Indian Muslims, Looking ahead

If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule: never lie to yourself.           
~ Paulo Coelho
UP elections are over and the results are out. They are surprising for some of us who have become used to living our lives in slumber. But for those who had their eyes open, the result in UP was neither unexpected nor sudden. It is the result of 90 years of dedicated effort by countless people who will remain unknown but whose effort bore fruit beyond their dreams. We Muslims on the other hand, remained content with complaining and begging. The world changed but we remained stuck in a world that no longer exists. UP election result was (or should be) enough to wake us from the deepest slumber so that we learn to deal with the new world in which we find ourselves. Unless we do that, the results will be far worse than what we may imagine.


So, what must be done now that we are faced with this fait accompli?


The principles of resilience are three:

1. Face the brutal facts without mincing words or looking through rose tinted glasses
2. Identify critical aread of impact and work on them. Not everything is equally important
3. Make necessary changes, no matter how painful

This is the framework which I am going to try to follow.

The Brutal Facts

BJP won a landslide victory. All the analysts were wrong. More than being divided, the Muslim presence in politics and the way it was portrayed to others, resulted in the Hindu vote getting consolidated behind the BJP. Muslims have become the bogeyman of Indian politics and it appears that the mere presence of a Muslim candidate is enough to bring out the worst fantasies in the minds of others. That none of this is based on fact is not important. Rumors don’t need facts to thrive. I am not going to make a long list of all that is wrong with the situation of Muslims today. I think we have the intelligence to see that. I will suffice to say that if we don’t wake up and do what needs to be done, no matter how painful, we are going to enter an era of darkness that none of us has faced in living memory. Our fate is quite literally in our own hands.

The truth is not difficult to see but difficult to swallow.
~ Mirza Yawar Baig
Muslims must understand that their development and future in the country is not restricted to government largesse or elections. It is in our hands and depends on the overall sentiment about us as people, as neighbors, as fellow citizens. Today all this is at an all-time low. I don’t say that this is entirely our fault. A lot of it is the result of systematic propaganda against Islam and Muslims which our neighbors believed. However, our inward looking and exclusionist stances have facilitated the misunderstandings and stereotypes. When people don’t know you personally it is easy to believe the worst about you. This has happened to us and this must change.
Elections apart, we simply have to win the hearts of the person on the street, the person next door and the person sitting next to us at work. If we do that well, then the sentiment will protect us from those who seek to harm us. We need to be seen as beneficial for all people. Incidentally this is what Allah described us and our mission – selected for the benefit of people. We need to therefore redefine how we look at ourselves vis-à-vis others and decide what we need to do to change the negative image into a positive one.  

“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”      
~ R. Buckminster Fuller
All change is painful. Drastic change is even more painful. But the most painful is annihilation. That is what must be remembered when we want to complain about what I am about to propose. Annihilation, not literally but in every other way as productive, influential and important citizens of the country. We are facing a future where when the words of the Constitution are spoken, “We the people of India”, 200 million citizens will not be included in the term, ‘We the people.’ Once again, if that comes to pass, it will be with our active or tacit agreement. Nobody to blame but ourselves.
I believe that there are three areas we must address urgently.

1. Societal impact
2. Approach to religion
3. Politial presence

1.     Changes for Societal Impact
Become beneficial and be seen as beneficial. The way to the heart is through the belly as they say. This means that people need to feel and taste the goodness of anything to believe it. Words are cheap and today we are looking at a society that has become intensely cynical and has no trust in anyone’s words. Action speaks; not just louder than words but it is the only thing that speaks. People don’t care what you say until they see what you do. The change must come within our community. We must shed our exclusivist image and communicate with others (non-Muslims). Talk to your neighbors, colleagues, customers. Just talk. Not talk theology but just normal everyday talk. Help them even if they don’t help you. Be good to them even if they are not. Greet them in their terms and thank them for any service; for example, thank the taxi driver, the bus driver, check-in and check-out person, the waiter, the doorman, anyone. Thanking increases blessing and changes hearts. This must be done such that people change their perception about us.
I know this is difficult especially in a society that has become very polarized and Muslims are denied housing and jobs. It is difficult but that is why it is even more critical to do it. As for polarizing society, it is good to remind ourselves that we are equally responsible for it with less justification because polarization is suicide for a minority, yet we did it and allowed it to happen. That is the reason we must change this perception by being genuine and approaching our fellow countrymen and women with love, respect, openness and acceptance. It is critically important to give this message to our children who mirror what they hear at home. Listening to the young ones of all communities tells you a sorry tale about the kind of psychological conditioning that is taking place in our homes. All of us, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Esai (Christian) – remember the song?? Today these are empty words. I weep when I recall my own childhood when a friend was simply a friend. His name wasn’t a flag to his caste. We lived in each other’s homes, ate each other’s food, called each other’s parents, Amma, Mataji, Dadji, Papa, Baba. Where did we lose it all?  
When the truth must be spoken, silence is culpable.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
 We must set up a fund to create the following institutions open to everyone:
Legal Aid Cell
·        Establish Legal Aid Cells in every city and take up cases of all those who need legal aid – not only Muslims
·        Make a list of cases that need to be tackled in order of priority and ease of winning
·        Make Law a primary study focus for students
·        Ensure that no attack on anyone goes unchallenged
·        Because injustice to one is injustice to all
Focus on education
·        Set up high quality English medium schools which teach vocational skills
·        Open them to everyone – not only Muslims
·        Make it compulsory for every child to go to these schools until the high school level
·        Make Madrassas only for higher education – graduation and above. Not for primary and secondary education
·        Make every child a potential entrepreneur
Employment
·        Set up a Zero Interest Venture Capital Fund and an Advisory Council to help startups
·        Open both to everyone – not only Muslims
·        Send our youth into the army and police both at officer and serviceman levels. This will inculcate discipline and a sense of belonging to the nation, both of which are missing today
·        Teaching, judiciary, journalism & media are professions of choice
·        Zero unemployment is possible with entrepreneurship
Social Development Fund
·        Set up a Social Development Fund to help anyone in need – not only Muslims
·   Focus on prisoners who need bail, hospital expenses, clean water, sewage, housing, vocational education, entrepreneurial development, orphans, widows
·    Focus on women’s economic and educational development to ensure empowerment of women
·        Demonstrate the real face of Islam to the world of helping everyone to be well
Funding for all the above
·        Central collection of Zakat Funds.
·        Capitalizing of Awqaf (Religious endowments).
·        Voluntary contribution of Rs. 100 per person per month.
·        Additional charitable donations.
2.  Approach to religion
Change our ways
The change must begin within us, individually, within our families and within our community. We need to clean up our lives of all forms of disobedience of Allah and ensure that we spread goodness all around us. Islam doesn’t distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to justice or welfare. Neither must we. Our presence must be seen as a blessing in the community we live in, our cities and villages. This message must be spread by all of us in our different capacities. The major share of this lies on the Ulama who have access to the Friday congregations. Their message must be about distinguishing ourselves through service, bringing hearts together and against every form of divisive thought, ideology and message. We need to root out the social evils that our society is plagued with, chief among them being alcoholism, gambling and ostentation. Our ostentatious weddings are a case in point. To celebrate weddings the way we do when our own people are as poor and deprived as they are is immoral and criminal. To participate in such functions is to aid and abet the crime. These are destroying us at all levels and must be forcibly stopped if persuasion doesn’t work.
We must not only consciously not propagate differences and divisiveness but we must forcefully do the opposite. Preach and promote by word and action, inclusiveness, acceptance and brotherhood. Universal brotherhood, because that is the way of Islam. Universal brotherhood is a message that is unique to Islam. That and mercy and forgiveness from one person to another. These two must be revived urgently because our lives are currently desolated and deprived of both. Today, let alone preaching divisiveness with respect to non-Muslims, we preach it with respect to Muslims who don’t belong to our particular cult, juristic order (Madhab), culture or region. This is completely Haraam. It is not in the scope of this article to quote from the Qur’an and Sunnah to prove my statement but there are plenty of lectures of mine with all references that you can listen to.
Secondly on the national front the following actions must be taken with respect to our Madrassas and the AIMPLB. Our Madrassas are a symbol of great dedication but very poor quality. The result is that graduates are maladjusted and incapable of being productive members of society and are looked down upon and treated with disdain. To change this, we need to change what we teach and how we do it.
Madrassa Education
·    Set up a Central Madrassa Board to ensure the following:
·    All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach & have a teaching degree. Our Madrassas are perhaps the only schools where teachers need not be trained to teach. This is so incredibly insane that I feel ashamed to write it.
·        Corporal punishment to be banned and punishable if practiced.
·        Madrassas only for higher (college) education. Not earlier.
·      Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system. Present curriculum and syllabi to be redesigned to make them current, relevant and effective. Please see my paper on this.
·        Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board so that funds can be allotted to those who need them and not be squandered by those who happen to have the ability to raise them.
·        Transparency in all matters and merit being the only consideration.
·   Establish the Maktab system to educate children in Islam. This is very successfully practiced in South Africa, the UK and elsewhere and can be replicated in India.
AIMPLB
·        AIMPLB to abolish triple Talaq and not oppose UCC. Let the government introduce the UCC which will be debated nationally in which we can also participate. No need to say anything until then. The image of being regressive must be changed.
·        AIMPLB membership must be democratized and operations made much more efficient and relevant.
·        AIMPLB to be the sole dispenser of Fatwas on any matter. All random Fatwa dispensers to be stopped.
·        No knee jerk reactions and no working in slow motion.
Subsidies & Reservations
·        Demand that the Hajj Subsidy be abolished. It is a subsidy to Air India, not to Muslims. Refuse to take it.
·     Hajj is not Fardh on anyone who can’t afford it. We don’t need to give our detractors another stick to beat us with.
·        Any travel agent can get us better fares than Air India.
·        Demand that Hajj Committee be abolished. It gives little benefit and with the removal of the Hajj Subsidy its purpose will vanish.
·    Ditto for all Reservations. We don’t need them. Nobody respects beggars. We need to become self-sufficient. Reservations have never solved anyone’s problems and they won’t solve ours. They are yet one more stick for our detractors to beat with.
3.    Political presence
Leave politics as contestants
UP elections have proved that as things stand Muslim presence in politics as contestants only serves to drive everyone into the arms of the Hindutva brigade. Their absence will enable those who stand for principles instead of caste to have a voice to try to steer Indian politics away from a purely caste-based contest. This may sound drastic but I believe our situation today has reached such a desperate state that we need to consider drastic changes. Like invasive surgery and chemotherapy despite the pain and evil after effects become acceptable when life is at stake, I believe we have reached a stage today where our survival as viable, functioning members of society as Citizens of India seems to be at stake.
As I mentioned earlier, it appears that in the future, when the words of the Constitution are spoken, ‘We the people of India’, somehow 200 million citizens will not be included in this definition. So, we should not stand for election any more at least for a five-year period. If you are not there, you can’t become the bogey man. Muslims must break out of it. We must reject all extremist talk and ideas. Polarization may help some individuals but it is suicide for the community. We must partner and cooperate with all those who stand for justice, human rights, dignity and solidarity of the nation.
Conclusion

I believe the time has come for Indian Muslims to rethink their very existence in this country. We are Indians by choice. We love our country and want to contribute to its development. Therefore, it is time to stop living in isolation and start participating in every aspect of life in our country as CONTRIBUTORS. Not merely whine and complain about negative things that happen to us but do nothing positive to help others. Nobody can harm us – unless we allow it. All this will take time and effort. All this will be painful at least to some. All this needs serious investment of funds. But without it, we will cease to exist as relevant and significant members of this society.

The writing is on the wall. The choice is ours.

Madrassa education in India – what needs to change

Madrassa education in India – what needs to change

“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Scope

The purpose of this article is to help the graduates of Madaaris (Ulama) to become relevant in modern society and to be able to provide positive leadership to their congregations. 

 I have tried to define the situation with Madrassa Education in India as I understand it and to propose a solution to the deficiencies and problems that it faces. That these deficiencies and problems are not necessarily recognized or likely to be accepted by those who run Madaaris is to be expected because the first reaction of the patient who is diagnosed with a terminal illness is denial. However, this ‘illness’ though terminal, if left unattended, is curable if addressed. The question is whether those who have the authority – Madrassa administrators and even more importantly, sponsors – are willing to address it and implement the cure. It is my job to share my thoughts. With that, I rest my case before Allah. For I will not be asked, ‘What did you know?’ I will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ That is what you, my dear reader, will also be asked.

About the issues with the quality of education in our Madrassas in  India, I believe we need to look at the syllabus which is based on the Dars-eNizami. Dars-e-Nizami or its derivatives are taught in thousands of Madaaris worldwide which draw inspiration, instruction or follow the principles and values of Darul Uloom Deoband, arguably the most respected Madrassa in the subcontinent.  I have quoted from Darul Uloom Deoband’s site because Deoband is the bastion of this syllabus and methodology. You can see what they themselves say about what the student gains after eight years of full-time residential ‘education’. (bold type below is mine).

Its founder was Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi (d. 1748), who was contemporary of Hazrat Shah Waliullah. The curriculum known as “Dars-e Nizami”, which is current today in all the Arabic schools, is a relic from him. Adding something more to the syllabi of the third period, Mulla Nizamuddin prepared a new syllabus. The great peculiarity of this syllabus is that more attention has been paid in it to the creation of depth of insight and power of reading in the student, and although immediately after the completion of this course proficiency is not acquired in any particular subject, this much ability is surely created that, through one’s own independent reading and labor, one may acquire proficiency in any subject of one’s liking. The standard of Hadith and Tafsir in this course too is not much high, and of literature there is included no book at all.

http://www.darululoomdeoband.com/english/sys_of_edu/index.htm

Mulla Nizamuddin created what came to be called Dars-e-Nizami in the 1730’s, more than a century before 1857 and the establishment of British rule in India. He created the syllabus to enable Madrassa graduates to get government jobs in the Moghul administration. Since he was from Lucknow where the influence of Iran was very strong, his course gave far more importance to Ilm Kalam, Greek philosophy, logic (Mantiq), Farsi and not to the Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah. What is amazing is the sincerity with which our Madrassa authorities still cling to this totally outdated syllabus ignoring all the changes in time, space, political situation and realities of the modern world that have happened since the 1730’s. The result is that they are still producing graduates ideally suited to enter the service of a government that ceased to exist a century and a half ago.

I don’t think there is any doubt in the minds of anyone including those who graduate from Madaaris with at least some residual ability to think still intact, that there is a crying need for change. Not merely cosmetic or incremental change but a total transformation of the curriculum, syllabus and teaching methodology to ensure that those who graduate from there can enter society with confidence.

The reason this is even more important is because according to the Justice Sachar Committee Report (2005) http://bit.ly/2fmNJoY there are two million students in Madaaris in India. That is less than 2% of the population of Indian Muslims but it is significant because of the amount of money that is spent voluntarily on it by the community which the same Report defines as being economically speaking, the weakest in the nation. Yet the Indian Muslim community spends a colossal INR 24 billion (2400 crores) annually on sponsoring Madrassa education. I doubt if there is any other community of Indians who can match this contribution to national development.

I arrived at this figure by assuming a cost/student of INR 1000 per month per student. The actual cost is most likely to be double that or more as most Madaaris provide boarding, lodging and education, totally free. However, for our discussion the amount of INR 24 billion (2400 crores) is sufficient. It is my contention that anyone (person or group) that spends so much money must be concerned about the quality of the output for which the money is being spent. I believe that is where the problem starts because to the best of my knowledge there is no particular purpose or clear objective of Madrassa education.

No Madrassa teacher or director has ever been able to answer me clearly when I asked them to describe what their final product, the graduate of the Madrassa, was supposed to be. Educators teach what they have been mandated to teach according to the syllabus. Sponsors sponsor the education considering it to be a ‘good deed’ for which Allahﷻ will reward them. Students who come mostly from the poorest strata of Muslim society and their parents, have no voice at all in deciding what is taught, how it is taught or what the result is. The fact that the graduate is called A’alim is a bonus and he exists with a sense of position though without any skills to lead his life in society.

In brief this is what happens in Dars-e-Nizami. This is not a criticism of this work and may Allahﷻ grant the best reward to the its author. I am mentioning this to you so that you, who live in today’s world, can decide if it is enough as the fundamental education for young people and relevant in our 21st century world. I want you to see this also in the light of Islamic religious education and ask yourself if this is sufficient for someone who is going to emerge at the other end and be called A’alim.

Under Dars-e-Nizami curriculum:

  1. Students only touch the Qur’an as the method is a ‘Dawrah’ (reading, not teaching). Tafsir-i-Jalalayn (which has fewer words than the Qur’an!) is followed and that is done for Barakah only. Usool-ul-Tafsir are not taught. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah, is not taught which means that students never get to touch the original revelation but must be content with the translation. Instead Arabic books are taught in Urdu (translations) and this is not considered either strange or wrong. The teachers themselves don’t know Arabic, so if one wanted to bring about a change, it would not be so easy as to simply tell teachers to teach in the original language of the book, which is Arabic. They can’t because they don’t know it themselves. Yet they are recruited, paid and teach.
  2. Interestingly in every Western university where there is a Faulty of Islamic Studies, fluency in Arabic is a pre-requisite for being recruited as a teacher. Consequently, they have non-Muslim teachers who know Arabic and can quote the Qur’an and Hadith which our graduates from our Darul Ulooms and even their teachers, can’t. It is a matter of shame for us that Islam is the only religion which is taught by non-Muslims in many Western universities because all the Darul Ulooms of the Indian Subcontinent together, can’t produce enough graduates who are fit to be hired into a system that demands the knowledge of the language of the Qur’an to teach the Qur’an. The fact that they don’t know English either doesn’t help and non-Muslims teach Islam to Muslim students, understandably with their biases and prejudices.
  3. The six books on Hadith are also taught in a similar fashion – as a ‘dawrah’ during the last year. Students gain neither knowledge nor understanding. The teacher simply reads, gives a short explanation and goes on to the next Hadith. There is no discussion, no question and answer, no reflection on the Asbaab (circumstances) of the Hadith, no comparison with what Rasoolullahﷺ taught in a given situation and how it compares and contrasts with what we are taught or what we do in our own lives. There is no time to contemplate on any Hadith and think about how to apply the teachings in current times.
  4. History and Seerah are neither taught in detail nor to extract lessons. This is the strangest and most crippling deficiency because Allahﷻ ordered us to learn about the life of His Prophet, Muhammadﷺ and to emulate him and follow his way. If this is not even done in a religious school (Deeni Madrassa) then where will it be done?
  5. There is a total lack of critical thinking for fear of raising questions or disagreeing with the established position of the ‘school’. In our Madaris we teach Madhab, not Islam. For example, in Hanafi Madaris like Deoband and others, a whole course is taught about the ‘mistakes’ of Imam Shafi in his extraction of rulings but no course on the Principles of Fiqh (Usool-ul-Fiqh), Manners of Disagreement (Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf) or Principles of Extraction of Rulings (Istambaad-ul-Ahkaam). The result is that instead of appreciating the different approaches of the Fiqhi scholars and Imams, students come out with the impression that one of them was ‘right’ and the others were ‘wrong’. And since they follow the ‘right’ one, they are superior to the other classical scholars who were ‘wrong’. This arrogance creates rigidity and is the root cause behind the inter-denominational hatred, divisiveness and violence. Acceptance of a point of view different from one’s own; accepting that someone else can also be correct, is not something that our Madaaris believe in, teach or practice.
  6. Even this would have been acceptable if they had been open about it. They would still be wrong but at least honest. But instead, they publicly proclaim that all the four (Sunni) Imams of Fiqh are correct, but clandestinely and privately they condemn everyone other than Imam Abu Hanifa. They try to enforce Hanafiyat (‘Hanafeeism’ – my coinage) rather than Islam. This is hypocrisy at its worst.
  7. One of the reasons why critical thinking and questioning is discouraged is that people consider the human understanding and interpretation of the revelation by their predecessors as ‘divine’. The opinions of their own scholars (called Akabireen; The Great Ones) are considered sacrosanct, unquestionable, irrefutable and good for all time. The reality is that only Qur’an and authentic Sunnah is divine. Rest of the sciences of religion are human understanding of the revelation and as such are bound to have differences. An interesting corollary is that there is no evidence that anyone who has been raised to this ‘divine’ status today, ever wanted this to be done or told anyone that he was infallible and must be obeyed without question. Yet this is done in their name today.
  8. It’s noteworthy to mention that Imam Abu Hanifa’s main students (Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad) differ from him in one-third of his madhab. It shows that he trained his students to think rather than copy him and if they differed from his opinion he didn’t throw them out of his class. But his way has been lost today.
  9. Students in Madaris succeed because they focus on memory. Madrassas deliberately discourage, even punish, critical thinking. The most powerful way to do this is to make everything sacred and therefore unquestionable. There is no difference in approach to the Word of Allahﷻ, the teachings of His Messengerﷺ and the teachings of (especially and almost exclusively) the scholars of a particular Madhab. The word ‘Akabireen’ (Great Ones), is used exclusively for scholars of the Madhab only. No Deobandi – Hanafi means Iman Shafi, Imam Ahmad or Imam Malik when he says, ‘Akabireen’ with the appropriate intonation of respectful reference. He means not only Imam Abu Hanifa exclusively, but he means the Ustaadhs of Darul Uloom Deoband only. So, where is the question of questioning anything that was ruled by any of them when to do so would be to literally put your life and reputation on the line. “To question is not to deny” – is not something that our traditionalists believe in. Our way is to hear and obey, even though that is something that applies only to the Word and Orders of Allahﷻ Raising humans to a semi-divine status is always injurious to reason.
  10. Since students don’t learn Arabic, which is the language of both Qur’an and Sunnah, they are not able to reach the source books and study them directly. They rely on translations which are bound to have their limitations. But this situation is not remedied. Instead it is accepted as inevitable, unchangeable and correct.
  11. The teachings and rulings of Rasoolullahﷺ are treated as if coming from a ‘Mufti’ rather than from the Messenger of Allahﷺ. People don’t take guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead they impose their own understanding from their culture, ideas, philosophy on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead of taking from the Qur’an & Sunnah, people start to give to Qur’an.
  12. Finally, in what is, in reality, a basic primary to secondary or at the most, high school level course, nothing is taught of math or science, history (mentioned earlier) or geography. How someone who never learnt math can even be called ‘educated’ is beyond me, but that is what happens in our Madaris. Yet the student graduates from high school with the title, ‘A’alim’ and its attendant attitude.
  13. Teaching methodology in Madaaris is totally defunct and completely free from all the latest developments in teaching technology and methods. Madrassa education in the Indian subcontinent is the only system in which teacher training is unheard of. So is understanding of child psychology, class plans, teacher assessment, standardized exams or any of the teaching aids that are commonplace in every other school. Just ask a normal Madrassa teacher about any of these things and you will see what I mean. Corporal punishment is normal and brutal.

Yet there seems to be no concern in our community and no anguish except in my heart. No effort to change anything because of our innate laziness and blind following of the ‘Ulama’. This elevation of status of ‘Ulama’ (Madrassa graduates) to a level of semi-divinity, is the masterstroke which the ‘Ulama’ have played which shuts down all legitimate criticism which could have resulted in improvement.  Instead, anyone who dares to criticize with sincerity and concern is deemed a rebel with his status liable to be promoted to ‘apostate’, if he doesn’t cease and desist and refuses to toe the line.

For those sponsors of Madaaris reading this I would like to respectfully ask, ‘How many of you have taken the trouble to go and see what is taught and how, in the institutions you support? If you haven’t, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ How and why are you so disinterested in what you are sponsoring that you don’t take any trouble to ask what is taught, why it is taught, how it is taught and what is sought to be achieved because of the teaching. Do you have any idea what you want to achieve apart from getting Thawaab?  I don’t think that anyone will differ about the need to have a clear focus on the purpose of Islamic education and to bring Islamic education on par with secular education in terms of teaching curricula and methods. Then why don’t you do it?

The present syllabus is totally inadequate both theologically and in a worldly sense. Add to that the fact that graduates come out with the title of A’alim and an inflated sense of their own importance combined with an inferiority complex. This happens when their Madrassa inflated egos meet the real world and realize their inadequacy. So, they go into a shell because they’re helpless and don’t know how to handle it. In short at the end of eight years of fulltime study the students of our Madaaris graduate with the title of A’alim but without proficiency in anything. You may ask how this is different in the case of a Matric student who also graduates without proficiency in anything. The answer is that he is not called an A’alim and passing Matric is not his final goal.  He passed Matric as a step to enter a pre-university course from where he will enter university and go on to post graduate studies and so on. His self-concept and attitude are completely different, and society treats him accordingly.

The vast majority of those who graduate with the degree of A’alim however, go nowhere. They become Imams and spend the rest of their lives leading Salah in a masjid and start their own Madrassa or teach in another Madrassa albeit without any qualification to teach. That this is the result of 8 – 12 years of so-called education on which a colossal amount is spent by the community which can least afford this luxury, shows how little we care about our own community and its most critical asset; the youth and education.

Quality is the outcome of measurement

How can you have quality in a system where there are neither standards nor metrics? In India, you don’t need any accreditation or certification to start a Madrassa. There are no minimum standards for anything at all; infrastructure, teacher quality, teaching material or any of the normal standards that you would have to satisfy to be certified and permitted to start a basic elementary school. There are no metrics to measure anything in the Madrassa system, so how can you have quality which is the outcome of measurement? Teachers need no qualification to teach nor do they or you feel the need for this. Students come from the poorest and therefore the least powerful or vocal section of society. Students and their parents have low or no aspirations and no voice at all to implement any change, even if they knew what they wanted to be changed. The curriculum has no benchmark to compare with any curriculum today, is not comparable to any other educational system and to top it all is given the patina and glow of the sacred and holy which is meant to throttle any change initiative in the cradle.

To close the loop from where I started, the biggest hurdle to change in the existing Madrassa education system is the fear that any mention of change inspires in those who own and run it. That is entirely understandable because for one thing; the Madaaris are the means of their own livelihood. For another, change in the way that is needed is not merely incremental, evolutionary or cosmetic but revolutionary, transformative and metamorphic. What is needed is a completely new system. Resistance arises from the real fear in the teachers and Madrassa owners of becoming redundant and thereby losing their livelihood. This is a real fear because expecting current teachers to learn a completely new body of knowledge and teaching methodology is unrealistic. Add to it the fact that included in the re-learning is to learn two new languages, Arabic and English, and the water gets even murkier. That is why I began with Buckminster Fuller’s quote. What is needed is to create a new model which will be proof of concept to inspire change and give people the reassurance that success always does. I remind myself of two things: people with limited resources must be very clear and selective about where to spend them to get the maximum benefit. And one day we will be questioned about what we did or failed to do by the One who knows and sees all.

All change must begin with clarifying the goal. Madrassa educators must arrive at a consensus on what they and their Madaris really are; basic primary and secondary schools or higher institutions of specialized theology? As it stands they are neither. Once that is settled, the rest can all be tailored, and standards defined accordingly. We must therefore begin with defining the goal; the end result that we would like to achieve. Once that is clear and agreed upon, one can work on the curriculum, syllabus, course material (books etc.), testing, teaching methodology, teaching tools and technology, infrastructure and teacher training.

Madrassa sponsors must articulate their vision for the training of Ulama. What do we expect them to achieve once they graduate? The goal of learning is something that is not even questioned in any other branch of education because it is clear from the beginning. You don’t need to ask someone running a medical college or a flying school or a Judo dojo or a dance academy, what they expect from the students who graduate. But with respect to our Madaaris and those who graduate from them and those who teach them, their purpose, their life goal, what they are aspiring to become and achieve are all enigmatic and mysterious. That is why there is low motivation which is sought to be countered by rote learning and brutal corporal punishment.

One final matter which all aspiring instigators of change need to keep in mind is that all this needs serious capital investment. Less than what we spend for ostentatious weddings but still significant. Without that we can’t hope to create the infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, courseware and myriad other things that are necessary to ensure that the new institutions can deliver the results we hope to achieve. This is also necessary to make Madaaris aspirational. To test if our Madaaris are aspirational (in case you have any doubts) ask one of your children if they would like to leave their school and join any Madrassa in India and you will have the answer. This must change. The image problem that Madaaris have reflects also on their graduates and explains the lack of respect that Madrassa graduates have in Muslim society.

The big question is, ‘How much longer do we want to continue with this?’ This question must be answered first and most importantly by those who fund Madrassas. It is they who must drive the change. It is they who will be questioned by Allahﷻ and recorded in history for what they did or failed to do. Change is the result of the actions of those who pay for it. It is time that we focused on what happens to our donations and seek to make that most beneficial for the community because it is only quality that pleases Allahﷻ.

What must be done?

I have tried to list some broad changes that need to be introduced urgently if we are interested in ensuring that our money is spent in a beneficial manner to achieve our aims of serving the needs of Islam and Muslims.

A Central Madrassa Board must be created to ensure the following:

  1. All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach and have a degree in education
  2. Infrastructure must conform to a standard and must be inspected periodically
  3. Corporal punishment must be banned and severely punishable if practiced
  4. Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system
  5. Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board
  6. Transparency in all matters and merit, the only consideration

I have not attempted to suggest a complete curriculum and syllabus for Madaaris because before anything can be suggested it is essential for the institutions to feel the need and to define their goal. Currently they don’t have any goal apart from getting donations. The fact that their graduates emerge in society, unfit and incapable of dealing with it, much less provide leadership, leaves them unmoved. Until that changes and until they feel the need to change, no change is possible.

Despite all of the above, if donors decide that it is time to question what happens to their donations and if they are getting value for them; and if they are willing to take the pain to bring about change, it can be done.

I believe it is essential to change ourselves before change is forced upon us from outside.